Our Great British Summer Jolliday
As is customary, we are spending a week in the summer with my in-laws on a British Staycation, this time in Pembrokeshire. However the prospect of being trapped with two bored teenies in an overstuffed car for 5 hours, did not appeal. We decided to break up the pending road trip with the a pit stop mid way for a couple of days. This being a new phase of life, I fancied something other than the typical roadside Premier Inn or quaint country B&B. I was in the mood for adventure! After a brief search of AirBnB I stumbled upon a Tipi retreat in Hafod. The big kid in me was immediately drawn to the idea of lodging in a wigwam. The grown up in me was shot down and we were booked to spend two nights in Ystrad Meurig. However, whenever I mentioned my plans to folk in passing, they looked surprised. I suppose because I am what my friends affectionately call, a diva. I’m often labelled as “Queen” or “Princess”, as if the moniker may somehow offend me. It doesn’t. In other words, I have high standards and enjoy the finer things in life. When I travel my philosophy is to avoid staying anywhere that isn’t better than, or at least equal to, home. So the idea that I’d chosen to rough it for a couple of nights was no doubt a surprise to some. But they don’t know this new version of me. For I am Blackbird, see me fly!
The Hafod Tipi is set in several acres of wild meadows on the stunning Hafod estate in mid Wales. This does not mean, as I supposed, that the tipi is set in the grounds of some manicured country estate run as a weekend folly by the landed gentry who own it. Rather the former Hafod estate which is now derelict, is the setting for what proved to be a rural, rugged and rustic retreat. Yours is the only tipi on the grounds and you are the only guests. For £60 per night, you get a tipi which sleeps four, a covered campfire area, a Robinson Crusoe shower and an eco toilet. In summary, this would normally be my idea of hell, but the new me was game…
Heigh-ho, heigh-ho, it’s off to Wales we go!
It didn’t start off particularly well. Having had one of the best Manchester summers in a decade, I was hopeful that the lazy sunshine and mild temperatures would continue. I was wrong. And whilst I had anticipated the odd summer shower, I did not bargain for hail storms in August. Honestly, who did? Yeah, yeah, all you smug people muttering about how the weather is always sh*ite in Britain, well I had my rose tinted specs well and truly fixed to my face. But there was no getting away from it, it was not looking good.
But being good adventure scouts, we persevered. A tedious combination of pit stops, traffic jams and slippery roads turned a bearable 3 hour journey into a 5 hour daymare. The tipi is in Nant Y Cae, a very small village of cottages dotted over a vast terrain. Ned and Julie, the owners of the Tipi, had very kindly sent some directions to find them. These, it turns out, are essential. Once you leave the main roads there is absolutely no hope of mobile phone signal. Nor is it somewhere that you would trust your sat nav to locate with ease. Fortunately our hosts braved the rain to come looking for us when we were late to arrive, and guided us up the narrow path to their house. This was not an adventure for the feint of heart or weak of back.
Ned and Julie greeted and guided us to an unbelievable stretch of land and we were very glad that they did. There is very little chance that we would have found it otherwise. It is so remote that even the locals struggle to find them. Many know who Ned and Julie are, but few know where they live. We should have been clued in that it’d be tricky when Julie asked us before we arrived what kind of car we were driving. Jeeps were made for this sort of terrain, Mazdas not so much. We crawled up the drive at a snail’s pace, praying that the overgrown hedgerows and low hanging branches would neither scratch the already sorry bodywork or knock the bikes off the roof rack. But it was all worth it, truly.
I was looking for a complete break from the norm, something and somewhere out of the ordinary and I believe this was it. With no mobile phone reception and no Wi-Fi, I was forced to detach from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. No emails, no Facebook and no WhatsApp. Ned and Julie are the nicest hosts one could hope for. I have stayed in a few AirBnB rentals and have rarely had occasion to convene with the hosts. Mostly it’s just a courteous handover at check in or check out, but not here. Despite the torrential downpour, the couple had a fire going for us in our camp, ready for our arrival. We were taken on a quick tour of our campsite, before settling by the fire for a chat. Unfortunately unexpected wind and storms resulted in the fire tent canopy collapsing in on us, so we had to deftly abandon ship. Not a problem, Ned and Julie invited us into their home to shield us from the worst. They made us hot drinks and since we no longer had use of the outdoor bonfire, I cooked cheeseburgers on their stove and we all got to know each other better.
Julie is a psychotherapist in Bristol and Ned is a talented wood turner who makes the most beautiful crockery. They moved to Wales from Bristol 11 years ago, swapping their suburban life for 7 acres of rural idyll. They adopted their rescue cat Marlon a couple of years ago. Although he is very friendly and well accustomed to the frequent visitors , even he grew wary of The Boy, unable to cope with the ferocity of his affection. Nothing was too much trouble for our hosts. They were ready with extra blankets and hot water bottles to keep us warm on our first night. And whilst it continued to pour with rain, we made our way to the tipi for our first night’s sleep. It was an early bedtime for our family of four at 9.30pm, but our day of travelling had taken its toll. With grown ups on the double bed and kiddiewinks in sleeping bags on camp beds, all slept soundly with the soundtrack of raindrops on tipi canvas lulling us to sleep.
Signs and Wonders
At home or in the comfort of a hotel room I would normally wake up once at night to use the loo and then hurry back to bed for fear of losing any more ‘tired’. But sleeping in the tipi I didn’t fancy braving the storm to do it. As a result I, slept relatively soundly until 7am when Layla decided it was time for us all to get up. So my first trip to the toilet block came in the morning. For those of you who poo pooed my camping adventure as “glamping”, this is proof that it was not. Whilst you are free to do a number one anywhere on the campsite (“in the long grass please kids!”), common decency dictates that a dedicated area be set aside for unsightly number twos. Step in the eco toilet block. Handmade by Ned himself, this log cabin houses a sink and two waist high toilet seats, which are carved shelves above a deep pit. Simply put, you climb the stairs, plonk and then plop. There’s a large bowl of sawdust for use afterwards. This is essential to absorb nasty whiffs, as I discovered when I forgot to use it myself (oops!). I found the whole experience to be rather liberating and not at all disarming, considering my phobia of public loos. Turns out that I am not too posh to push after all!
Julie invited us in for a breakfast of homemade bread with bacon and eggs and Ned brewed a pot of Italian organic fine roast fresh coffee. Delicious and warm. Still, this wasn’t a B&B and it wasn’t glamping. It is back to nature in it’s truest sense, surrounded by the beauty of a natural rainforest. The hosts are helpful but not intrusive, welcoming you in but leaving you to it. After breakfast, Julie offered to take us on a guided tour passed the Grey Mare’s Tail waterfall to the Robbers Cave. The views were breath-taking. Every inch of the mountain terrain was covered in thick moss. We climbed rocks and marvelled at trees and waterfalls, but nothing quite prepared me for the surprise that Julie had in store. Heading inside the cave, you are greeted by the most spectacular free flowing waterfall, a hidden gem. With the spray splashing on my face, I felt truly, truly free. It was exhilarating! I would have captured it, but was afraid that the water would wreck my phone.
Everybody Loves a Good Cwtch
After our exhilarating walk, we decided to drive to the local café in Pontrhydygroes. Fans of Gavin and Stacey will know that cwtch is Welsh for cuddle. And as the name suggests, Cwtch is a cosy and friendly place for tourists and locals alike. Say that Ned and Julie sent you and you will be treated like old friends. It serves as a well stocked local shop as well as providing cash back (when the machine is in order!). Delicious home made cakes and pastries are on offer as part of the loveliest lunch in town. One could happily while away a whole afternoon there, occasionally nodding off in the armchair or cuddling down for a nap on the sofa. It is also a very handy pit stop for avid walkers or cyclists, being adjacent to some decent trails.
But the tipi was undoubtedly the main draw. The kids loved it, they never wanted to leave, not even for lunch. It’s a child’s paradise. Pee where you want, shout as loud as you want. Be messy, be wild – all the things that I strongly discourage at home are de rigeur here. We spent the rest of the afternoon / evening by the repaired campfire toasting marshmallows, drinking hot chocolate and swapping stories with Ned and Julie. We sang campfire melodies (yes, yes we did). We shouted “rabbit” to shoo away the smoke (weird, but it definitely works!). The kids made up a game, Dipple Dipple Gets a Tickle where if you laugh then you’re out, and they played together nicely. Heaven! Especially when The Boy, exhausted from an active day, happily trotted off to bed at 6.30pm and slept through to 7.30am. Thirteen hours. THIRTEEN HOURS! That is unheard of in the Blackbird household.
Day three, and with the campfire restored there was no avoiding it any longer. We needed to get cleaned up before we set off, so it was time to brave the outdoor shower. The Hubbs was really embracing his inner Bear Grylls and was keen to build the morning fire to make toast from the homemade bread that Ned brought down in the breakfast hamper. There is a large metal bucket that can be filled with fresh spring water (found throughout the campsite) and boiled on the fire to provide hot water for the Robinson Crusoe shower. I was really not very keen, but The Hubbs’ enthusiasm proved contagious and we somehow managed to get all four of us washed and cleaned with the one bucket. Good work!
There was just enough time for us to go on one more adventure before we left paradise. Once again Julie kindly obliged and took us on a trail to see the rope bridge and to paddle in the shallows. There is no doubt about it, rain or shine this tipi adventure is a good time. The best of times really. I’ve got new memories that will last forever and friends that I look forward to seeing again. We definitely plan to go back , perhaps in June to see the carpet of wild orchids. This is the perfect getaway for those truly looking to get away from it all. Rural, rustic and restful. Bliss!
You can request to have your own tipi adventure in Hafod on AirBnB. Search Hafod Tipi in Ystrad Meurig – UK, run by Julie, you won’t regret it!
Read more about our Welsh summer jollidays in Postcard From Pembrokeshire.